Running with Pearls
Photos courtesy of Leah Morris
What do fake eyelashes, tiaras, tutus and camouflage clothing have in common? At one time or another, each — as well as other perfectly outlandish costumes — has been worn by Paonia’s Elegantly Attired Running Ladies, also known as PEARL.
Founded in 2009 by close friends Leah Morris and Kelly Ryan, originally “It was a way to motivate us into running,” explains Kelly. “We came up with the idea of looking good, first, and THEN got busy. Fashion is a great motivator!” Often referred to as the “Mother of Pearl,” she continues, “we’ve tried all sorts of costumes along the way, usually whatever can be thrown together out of crafts. Some of the outfits do NOT work, like the homemade polyester pants I once wore that caused me to trip and fall. Actually,” she giggles, “there have been lots of wardrobe malfunctions, usually when something clings to the legs or is too long!”
The group varies in members from five to 12 runners and they sometimes participate in five or 10 kilometer runs. (This translates to 3.2 to 6.4 miles. They’ve also done half-marathons, or 13 miles, at a stretch.) “We try to come up with different themes when we’re doing actual marathons,” recollects Leah. “For one practice run around town, we dressed up as a bride with her bridesmaids and ended up fooling bystanders into thinking it was an actual wedding! We’ve done them wearing 1980s workout spandex; stripes; elf outfits; and Superhero costumes. People really cheer when we come across the finish line since we’re always wearing SOMETHING interesting.” As well as catching attention, the ladies clearly enjoy making the spectators and local fans laugh out loud as they go by.
The eccentric group really turned some heads, for example, during a race at the annual Apple Fest in Cedaredge, Colo., a few seasons ago. “We had bras made of apples,” Kelly admitted, “shaped kind of like coconuts. We also wore earrings made of grass.” The women have shown up during Pioneer Days (Cedaredge); Cherry Days (Paonia); and at the Cherry Creek Run in Denver. (That one was referred to as the “Skirt Chaser,” where the women were given a head start and the men chased them.) A few years ago, they did an event in Moab, Utah, which was repeated on March 16. “Bystanders and runners alike there didn’t quite know what to make of us at first,” Leah points out. “This year, we’re wearing animal prints.” And they’ve also participated in the Diva’s Half-Marathon in Vail, where the winners receive feather boas and a glass of champagne after crossing the finish line.
Meeting to practice every Friday evening at Paonia Town Park (by the miner’s statue) at 5:30, the members of PEARL encourage any woman who is interested to join in. For Leah, who is a Hotchkiss librarian, and Kelly, who teaches Journalism at Delta High School, it is not only a great way to get in some exercise but allows them a break in the weekly routine — especially when considering that both have 2-year-olds at home. After jogging through town, it is tradition that they end up at the Revolution Brewery, a key part of the whole thing. There, the women are welcomed by a group called MEARL, also known as Men Enthusiastic About Running Ladies. “It gives us a chance to spend time with our husbands or boyfriends,” Leah concludes. The support from those men as well as that of the community — not to mention the chance to play dress-up and be silly — makes membership in PEARL the best motivator of all.
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From June through September, John Etchart spends most of the day driving a tractor through hayfields below the mountains near Meeker in northwestern Colorado.